Algiers: The spiritual leader of Algeria's influential Salafist movement has issued a 48-page fatwa, or religious decree, urging Muslims to ignore calls for change because he says that democracy goes against Islam.

The fatwa by Shaikh Abdul Malek Ramdani, who lives in Saudi Arabia, comes at an opportune time for President Abdul Aziz Bouteflika as Algerians watching protests in other Arab states have begun pushing their own political and economic demands.

"As long as the commander of the nation is a Muslim, you must obey and listen to him. Those who are against him are just seeking to replace him, and this is not licit," Ramdani wrote in the fatwa obtained by Reuters.

"During unrest, men and women are mixed, and this is illicit in our religion," said Ramdani, who claims several hundred thousand followers in Algiers.

Algeria has been shaken since January by a wave of protest sparked by a spike in food prices.

Popular revolts

Anxious to keep a wave of popular revolts in the Arab world from spreading to Algeria, the government has lifted a 19-year state of emergency and opened up state media to the opposition. It has also been paying out huge sums in subsidies, wage increases and interest-free loans to placate discontent.

Ramdani, who moved to Saudi Arabia after threats from Islamists, wrote in his ‘fatwa on unrest' that an observant Muslim can only "pray and be patient" when faced with an unwanted ruler. "Unrest is a tool created by democratic systems which are against Islam."